How to Change Your Custody or Visitation Order

This article was produced by CLS, GHLA, NHLAA, and SLS.

How to Change Your Custody or Visitation Order

My custody or visitation arrangement isn't working. What can I do?

First, contact the Family Services office in the court that made the order. They can meet with you and the other parent to try to work out the problem.

If Family Services can't help you, you will have to ask the court to change your custody or visitation order. Most courts have a Court Service Center that can help you with the forms.

How much does it cost to change a custody or visitation order?

It depends. You will have to pay

  • filing fees ($175);
  • service fees (about $50 to $70); and
  • lawyer fees, if you decide to have a lawyer.

If you cannot afford these fees, tell the court clerk you want to apply for a fee waiver. A fee waiver is when the court decides not to charge you. See our booklet: Can't Afford to Pay Court Fees? Ask for a Fee Waiver.

Will the court make the changes I ask for?

The court will probably change your custody or visitation order if these three things are true:

  • A Connecticut court made the custody or visitation order.
  • You can prove there was a substantial change in circumstances since the order was made.
  • The judge decides it's in the best interest of the children to change the order.

If these are not true, talk to a lawyer.

What counts as a substantial change in circumstances?

There must be more than a minor problem. For example:

  • If a parent missed one visit because of a one-time scheduling problem: No.
  • You think the other parent is hurting the child: Yes.

The other parent doesn't visit the child even though he or she has visitation time. Can I make the other parent visit?

No, but you can ask the court to reduce the amount of visitation.

How do I change my custody or visitation order?

Follow these steps:

  1. Fill out the court forms.
  2. Take the forms to the court clerk’s office. The clerk will put a hearing time and date on the Motion for Modification form.
  3. Have a marshal serve the other parent a copy of the Motion.
  4. File the Motion that was served on the other parent with the court clerk.
  5. Go to the court hearing.

1. Fill out your court forms.

You will fill out up to five forms. You can get them online (www.jud.ct.gov), in the court clerk's office, or at the Court Service Center.

You must fill out these forms:

Motion for Modification (JD-FM-174)
Use this form to ask the court to change the custody or visitation order.

Affidavit Concerning Children (JD-FM-164)
This form tells the court about your children, including:

  • where they have lived in the past 5 years, and
  • any other court cases related to this case.

Financial Affidavit (JD-FM-6)
This form tells the court about your income and expenses. Bring this form to your court hearing. See our booklet: A Guide to Financial Affidavits.

You might need to fill out these forms:

Appearance (JD-CL-12)
Fill out this form if

  • you'll be representing yourself in court and you have not already filed this form, or
  • your address changed.

Application for Waiver of Fees (JD-FM-75)
This form asks the court not to charge you for court fees. Fill it out if you cannot afford to pay them. For more information see our booklet: Can't Afford to Pay Court Fees?

2. Take the forms to the court clerk’s office.

Go to the clerk’s office at the same court that made your current custody or visitation orders. Give the clerk your completed forms. The clerk will write a date and time on the Motion for Modification. That’s the date of the court hearing when you and the other parent must go to court.

Make three copies of the Motion.

  • Give one copy to the clerk.
  • Keep one copy for your records.
  • Give the original and one copy to a state marshal. The marshal will fill out the original and give it back to you or to the court after serving the other parent. 

Do I have to pay to file the court forms?

The court clerk will charge you a filing fee (about $175). If you can't afford to pay the fee, tell the clerk you want to file a Fee Waiver Application(JD-FM-75). A fee waiver is when the court decides not to charge you. See our booklet: Can't Afford to Pay Court Fees? Ask for a Fee Waiver Application.

Note: In some courts, you pay the filing fee after the papers have been served on the other parent.

3. Have a marshal serve the other parent a copy of the Motion.

You must ask a marshal to personally give (serve) the other parent a copy of the Motion. To get a list of marshals in the area where the other parent lives or works, you can

  • ask the clerk (most courts have a list of marshals), or
  • get a list of marshals from the court's website.

Is there a deadline to have the marshal serve the other parent?

Yes. You must have the other parent served a copy of your Motion at least 12 days before your court hearing date. The clerk wrote the hearing date on your Motion form.

You will need to take or mail the marshal these papers:

  1. A completed marshal’s letter.
  2. The original Motion for Modification with the court hearing date.
  3. A copy of the Motion for Modification. Ask the marshal if you need to provide more than one copy.

Will I have to pay the marshal to serve the other parent?

  • If the court gave you a fee waiver, you will not have to pay.
  • If you did not get a fee waiver, you will probably pay around $50 - $75. Some marshals want payment right away. Others may let you pay after serving the other parent. You can call the marshal to find out about his or her fees.

See our booklet: Can't Afford to Pay Court Fees? Ask for a Fee Waiver.

What happens after the marshal serves the other parent?

The marshal will give back the Motion form with the Return of Service section completed. Make a copy of that form for yourself and take or mail the original to the clerk’s office before your court hearing date.

If the marshal has not returned the form yet, call the marshal to confirm that service was made. The marshal may have already filed the form at the clerk’s office.

Note: If the other parent lives out of state but a Connecticut court made the order, you still have to serve papers on the person. 

Call the State Marshall Commissions at 860-713-5372 for a recommendation. You need to know the county and state where the person lives. You may have to pay for out-of-state service. The court may not waive the costs for this. Talk to someone at the Court Service Center for more information.

4. File your forms with the court clerk.

File these forms with the clerk’s office:

  • Original Motion for Modification
  • Marshal’s Return of Service
  • Affidavit Concerning Children

You can file in person or by mail. Always keep a copy of any papers you file with the court.

If you did not already pay a filing fee, you will have to pay it now.

Exception: If the court gave you a fee waiver, you do not have to pay the filing fee.

5. Go to the court hearing.

Don’t be late! It’s best to arrive about 30 minutes early. You will need time to go through security and find your courtroom. 

  • Put your name and the other parent’s name on the Family Services list. Family Services will meet with you once both parties are present. Ask court personnel where the Family Services office is.
  • You need to bring the completed Financial Affidavit with you to your court hearing. See our booklet: A Guide to Financial Affidavits.
  • If you have witnesses, they must arrive at the same time, too. Witnesses are people, such as the child’s doctor, teacher or someone who was watching how the other parent behaved with the child.
  • Go to the clerk's office. Ask how your case will be called. Some courts call calendars; some do not.

Calendar Called

  • If you and the other parent have a written agreement, say, “Ready with an agreement” when your name is called. The judge will tell you what to do next.
  • If you and the other parent do NOT have a written agreement, say, “Ready” when your name is called. You will probably meet with someone from Family Services. They can help you work out an agreement or put your agreement in writing.

No Calendar Called

  • If you and the other parent have a written agreement, ask the clerk for a Memo to the Clerk form. Fill out this form to show the court you are ready to tell the judge about your agreement. Make sure you check that box that says “Ready with an agreement.”
  • If you and the other parent do NOT have a written agreement, look for your name on the list posted in the courthouse lobby. The list will say what courtroom you must go to. Go to that courtroom to meet with Family Services. You may have to put your name on the Family Services list. Family Services will try to help you and the other parent make an agreement. They will also help you write your agreement and show you where to sign.

Sometimes parties are required to meet with Family Services whether there is a written agreement or not. Check with the clerk's office.

What if I do not agree with Family Services’ recommendation?

You do not have toaccept Family Services’ recommendation. You have a right to present your case to the judge and to let the judge decide.

There is no guarantee that the judge will agree with you. Even if you do not like the judge's decision, you must obey it.

The Court Hearing

When your name is called, say, “Ready.”  Then go and stand at one of the tables in the front of the courtroom and follow the judge’s instructions.

  • You will probably have to swear to tell the truth before you present your case.
  • You will probably speak first. Keep it short and only talk about the reasons you asked for the modification. For example, you could say, "Our work schedules are different and the visitation days of the week need to change."
  • The judge may ask you questions. Tell the truth. Speak slowly. Give complete answers.
  • After you finish explaining your side, the other parent will explain his or her side to the court. The other parent may ask you questions, too.
  • You will get another chance to ask the other parent or witnesses questions that support your case. Your questions must be about things they said in court.
  • Both parents may have another chance to
    - say you disagree with the other parent, and
    - repeat the main points of your case.

TIPS for the Court Hearing…

  • If you are asked questions, tell the truth, speak slowly, and give complete answers.
  • If you don’t understand the question, say, “I don’t understand the question.”
  • Be polite to everyone in the courtroom. Don't argue or get upset.
  • When other people are talking, wait for them to finish.
  • Speak only to the judge unless it is your turn to ask questions.

When will the judge decide my case?

The judge often decides cases at the end of the hearing. If this happens in your case, the judge will announce the orders in the courtroom while you are still there.

Sometimes the judge will say, “I’ll take the papers.” That means the judge will decide later and the clerk will mail you a copy of the judge’s orders. If you don't hear from the court in a few days, call the clerk and ask about your case.

What if the other parent still does not follow the new order?

You may be able to get a contempt order against the other parent. Contempt means disobeying a court order.

If you ask the court for a contempt order, the court can make the other parent go to court to explain why he or she has not followed the court’s orders.

For more information, see our booklet: How to Ask for a Contempt Order.

Should I ask for a lawyer for my child?

If you and the other parent agree on custody and visitation, your child probably does not need a lawyer.

But you may want to ask for a lawyer for your child if

  • you and the other parent disagree about custody or visitation; or
  • you are worried about your child’s safety (child abuse, domestic violence, etc.).

See our booklet: Does Your Child Need a Lawyer?

For more information, contact:

Statewide Legal Services: 860-344-0380 (Central CT & Middletown) or 1-800-453-3320 (all other regions).

For people over 60, click here to get help from legal aid.

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